Friday, 9 October 2015

The dangers of a monopoly

I’ve not abandoned Anthony Avis’s entertaining memoir of 40 years in the brewing industry. Just paused a while to catch my breath.

His view from the eye of the takeover storm is helping me to understand the process much better.  To see the factors driving consolidation in the brewing industry. One very important cause was the fall in beer consumption after WW II. It put a lot of pressure on brewers. Coupled with most pubs being tied, it left few avenues for expansion to the ambitious brewer. Other than to pub competitors and so gain control of more pubs.

Absentee, uninterested (except for the money it earned them) owners also played a big part. The family brewers that survived were mostly those where family members continued to play an active part in the day-to-day running of the business.

But I digress. I wanted to quote Avis again. This time on an unexpected danger: gaining a local monopoly. I’ve a personal interest in this topic, as I grew up in a town dominated by a single brewer. But I didn’t realise at the time how short-lived this phenomenon was. Courage only got their stranglehold on Newark’s pubs after buying John Smith in 1970. This ended in the late 1970’s when Courage swapped pubs with Bass and Allied.

Balderton, the Newark suburb where I lived, went from 4 Courage pubs to 2 Courage, 1 Bass and 1 Allied. And from zero pubs selling cask beer to two.  Half a dozen or so of Courage’s 30-odd pubs in Newark itself also changed hands. Meaning the near-monopoly had lasted fewer than 10 years.

Loco monopolies weren’t uncommon. Tetley owned a ridiculous percentage of the pubs in Leeds. Partly through buying up local rivals such as Melbourne, but also through the formation of Allied Breweries. Ind Coope had owned a considerable number of pubs in town and these were transferred to Tetley. Similarly, the pubs Tetley owned down South became Ind Coope pubs.

Avis is talking about the Tadcaster Tower Brewery here:

“The company saw out the War years, the exigencies of the time requiring it to exchange all its Grimsby public houses with Hewitt's Brewery pubs in York, under the pressure of government guidance for economy in transport costs. Brewery companies were very partial to the idea of monopoly of trade in a district, if only because they were more experienced in regulation than selling; they were not made aware of the dangers of such a concept in reality, which was to reinforce the continuance of what they were doing and the way they were doing it - however, it made for a cosy existence. In this particular case, Hewitt's came off worse, as it left them owning or controlling virtually all the licensed premises in Grimsby. Tadcaster Tower Brewery {TTB} were not so dominant in York, and the competition kept them on their toes.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, page 27.

Many such schemes existed in WW II. Sometimes brewers just supplied other brewers’ pubs with beer, but on others occasions pub ownership was exchanged. It was a very sensible way of avoiding unnecessary transportation of beer.

That’s a very telling point about breweries being better at regulation than selling. The way the trade was structured, with most sales being in tied houses, didn’t exactly encourage salesmanship. It’s no coincidence that the brewery famed for its advertising, Guinness, had no tied estate.

Avis makes some more good points here:

“One of the more extreme examples of local monopoly, to my knowledge, was that of Bentley & Shaw in Huddersfield, where, after the take-over by Hammonds, the latter controlled over seventy five per cent of all licensed premises in the town. The result was a sameness to all the public houses; they looked alike inside and out - the style was identical, furniture, decor, the beer on sale - even the tenants (there were very few managers then). The same brewery senior management laid down the rules and the policy, and like all monopolies, became very efficient at control and very short of inspiration; any idea which for its implementation called for a change in routines, an upending of hitherto accepted philosophies, and a degree of risk, was treated with  suspicion and, usually, rejection. The not unreasonable argument put forward against any change was that of "Why alter success, and what is there to be gained by it? They (meaning the customer) have to drink in one or other of our pubs because we own them all". This argument was extended to the consideration of improvement of existing outlets and certainly to the construction of new ones; why improve or build when the customers have no choice where to drink? This led on to the idea of closing a pub where the brewery owned two or more in the same catchment area, on the basis that the customer would have to patronise what remained. Management thought slid into thinking in terms of control only; nothing wrong with that if the retailing had been left entirely to tenants to exploit, with only a tie for beer supplies; but it was not.”
"The Brewing Industry 1950 - 1990", by Anthony Avis, 1997, pages 27 - 28.

Why make an effort when the drinker had no choice? Seems like a recipe for long-term failure.

Another good example of a local monopoly was Norwich. The city had boasted three decent-sized breweries, but all fell under the control of Watney. Who closed two and supplied the city’s pubs with keg beer from the remaining one. Hardest hit were the villages around Norwich. While they once might have had two or three pubs from the different local brewers, once Watney got control of them all they started drastic pruning. Why run two or three pubs in the same village? The punters had no choice but to drink your beer in your pub.

Plenty more nuggets still to unearth from Avis’s delightful book.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Simonds Pale Ales 1948 – 1960

Another set of Simonds beers, this time of the paler Ale variety.

I hope this is helping to give you some idea of the beers brewed just after the war. Though they don’t look that odd to anyone who, like me, drank in the 1970’s. The traditional British styles didn’t change a great deal between 1960 and 1980.

Where to start? The draught ones, I suppose. I’ve included IPA as well because, well, they’re a kind of Pale Ale, too. Despite what modern geeks might like to think, historically the difference between the two styles was arbitrary. But that’s not what people want to hear. They want nice neat little boxes for each style. Except beer styles don’t – and never have – worked like that.

Certainly Simonds IPA and Best Bitter don’t have the relationship strength-wise most would expect today. The IPA is the weaker of the two. With a gravity in the mid-1030’s, it looks like a Classic Session IPA. If it weren’t for the fact that it predates the term by around 50 years.

Once again keg proves it perennial poor value. Simonds Keg Bitter is 3d a pint more expensive, but has a gravity 5 points lower than Best Bitter. It’s one of the reasons I never even vaguely contemplated becoming a keg or Lager drinker: I couldn’t afford it.

One last point. Most of the draught beers are quite pale. I’d expect a Bitter to be somewhere in the range 22 to 28. Anything under 20 is on the pale side.

Here’s table number one.

Simonds draught Pale Ale 1949 - 1960
Year Beer Style Price per pint d OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1949 E. IPA IPA 18 1039.7 1007 4.26 82.37% 23 B
1960 IPA IPA 14 1035.4 1010.2 3.15 71.19% 18
1950 Pale Ale Pale Ale 14 1031.5 26
1959 Keg Bitter Pale Ale 22 1037.4 1007.3 3.76 80.48% 19
1960 Best Bitter Pale Ale 19 1042.3 1007.5 4.35 82.27% 17
Truman Gravity Book document B/THB/C/252 held at the London Metropolitan Archives
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

The bottled set is somewhat larger. But appears to contain just four beers: Bulldog, SB and Tavern. Interestingly, the description of SB seems to have changed from Pale Ale to Light Ale in the late 1950’s. Though for a while they also had a beer called “Light Pale Ale”. I assume they changed to Light Ale to fit in with the fashion of the day. With the lowest gravity bottled Pale Ales being generally referred to as Light Ale.

Bulldog was mostly an export beer, I believe. Though as there’s a price in pence for the 1953 example, that must have been purchased in Britain. It’s very strong for a 1950’s Pale Ale. In fact it would have been at the top end of the gravity range in the 19th century. I don’t think I ever had it myself. I know Courage continued to brew it until at least the 1980’s, but don’t believe it’s still made. I know some beer writers rated it very highly.

Tavern is a funny one. I remember it as Courage’s flagship Keg Bitter. Pretty sure I never drank it. If I did have to drink in a Courage pub, I’d have gone for AK or Mild. It seems like another brand Courage picked up from Simonds. Older labels bill it as “India Pale Ale”, but later ones call it “Export Ale” whatever that means.

It’s interesting that the attenuation of the draught beers is, with a couple of exceptions, generally considerably higher than for the bottled beers.

Time for table two:

Simonds bottled Pale Ale 1948 - 1960
Year Beer Style Price per pint d OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour
1956 Bitter Ale Pale Ale 24 1030.1 1010 2.60 66.78% 25
1953 Bulldog Pale Ale Pale Ale 43.5 1066.4 1019.6 6.08 70.48% 25
1955 Bulldog Pale Ale  Pale Ale 1067 1018 6.38 73.13% 20
1949 Bulldog Pale Ale (imported into Belgium by John Martin, bought in Brussels) Pale Ale 1069.8 1011.9 7.59 82.95% 25
1959 Light Ale Pale Ale 22 1034.4 1012.1 2.88 64.83% 19
1948 Pale Ale Pale Ale 1028.8 1007.8 2.72 72.92% 22.5
1960 SB. Light Ale Light Ale 20 1034.2 1009.5 3.20 72.22%
1947 SB Ale Pale Ale 13 1029.1 1008.2 2.71 71.82% 23.5
1959 SB Light Ale Pale Ale 20 1034.2 1010.3 3.09 69.88% 19
1946 SB Pale Ale Pale Ale 13 1029.4 1005.1 3.16 82.65% 25 B
1950 SB Pale Ale Pale Ale 18 1032.5 1008.5 3.11 73.85% 26
1955 SB Pale Ale Pale Ale 18 1033 1009 3.11 72.73% 21
1956 SB Pale Ale Pale Ale 20 1033.4 1010.3 2.99 69.16% 21
1959 Tavern Export Ale Pale Ale 34 1045.8 1013 4.25 71.62% 18
1953 Tavern Pale Ale Pale Ale 30 1044.9 1012.3 4.23 72.61% 21
Which Beer Report, 1960, pages 171 - 173.
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.

Simonds Stouts to finish.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Let's Brew Wednesday - 1937 Courage KKK

A special treat as Kristen return for the first time in ages. I blame him for having a proper life. Unlike me, who lives under the stairs, only emerging to make tea and visit the toilet.

Courage was a funny brewery. Especially in the range of beers brewed by its original brewery in London. Because it didn’t brew Pale Ales of any variety. Rather than invest in a brewery in Burton as many London brewers did, in 1872 Courage signed a contract with Flowers of Stratford to provide Pale Ales. In 1886 the contract was moved to Fremlins and in 1903 Hall & Co. of Alton was purchased. Alton had similar water to Burton and was the perfect spot for brewing Pale Ales.

Which meant Horsleydown, Courage’s London brewery, only need concern itself with Porter, Stout, Mild Ale and Burton Ale. Meaning it had all of two recipes: one for Porter and Stout and another for all the Ales.

KKK was their top of the range Burton Ale. It was probably mainly, or even exclusively, a bottled beer. Barclay Perkins bottling version of KK was a similar beer, with a slightly lower OG at 1067º. Barclay’s winter seasonal, KKKK, was sold on draught and was even stronger at 1077º. Courage’s KKK is about exactly between those two in terms of gravity.

It’s not just in terms of gravity that Courage KKK resembles Barclay Perkins Burton Ales. The recipes are very similar, too. English and Californian pale malt, crystal malt, flaked maize and invert sugar. Even the percentages are similar. The only real difference was that Barclay Perkins used No. 2 rather than No. 3 invert.

So a pretty standard London-brewed Burton. Well, a strong one. Probably just the sort of beer I’d have been knocking back by the pint.

With that, it’s time to welcome back Kristen . . . .

Kristen’s Version:

Hey there sports fans!!! Hopefully you are reading this half drunk and if not half drunk, thinking about being so… Man, its been awhile and you have my apologies. In all truth, its my wife’s fault … her roller derby dominates our lives and especially my imbibition. Anyhoo…where the hell did the summer go? I just got done picking 250 liters of apples for cider and I had to where a damn sweatshirt. I came inside to grab a beer and all I had was delicious Pilsner Urquel to drink…yeah, its really great but when its chilly, I want something with more power to it … something specifically, actually exactly, like this beer. Make you some this. Don’t mess about trying to change or ‘improve’ the recipe with your patented ‘house flavor’. Make it right, then change it if you don’t like this style of beer. ¡DALE!

Starts with a solid amount of pale malt. A few different English ones will be nice…make sure Maris Otter is in there, or not, its just veery noice. The more loud, proud and in your face US 6-row kinda makes a mark in this beer…in a good way. Adds that husky dimension the more refined monocle-wearing English stuff doesn’t. A decent amount of crystal. This beer will change drastically depending on your choice. We are not a home to Mr. Cockup so make sure and pick the right one. Anywhere from 55L to 120L if using a single variety will work well. You can mix two also. I would suggest against using the American type crystal because they really lack the depth and complexity of the UK/European models…we want flavor coming to the party, not just ‘brown’.

Here’s the simple truth, if you use higher alpha acid hops in this beer, you’ll lose a lot of the character. That being said, do as you wish. Please refrain from using Citra or Mosaic. If you feel required to go more American, try a lot of Nugget.  You’ll see loads of dry hops I’ve added here. It was not listed in the log but along the lines of how other 3K’s were dry hopped so give it a go if you’d like.

The rub on this trucker is the really high final gravity. Look, you can try to use a less attenuative yeast. You can mash higher and mash thicker. My guess is you’ll maybe be able to keep this around 1.016 or so. That’s ok. I actually prefer them drier than whats listed here. All in all, do your best it’s just not a very pleasant beer if it gets too dry.

Standard procedure:
1) let the beer ferment until finished and then give it another day or so. For me right around 5-7 days.
2) Rack the beer to your vessel of choice (firkin, polypin, cornie, whatever).
3) Add primings at ~3.5g/L
4) Add prepared isinglass at 1ml/L
5) ONLY add dry hops at 0.25g/l – 1g/L.
6) Bung it up and roll it around to mix. Condition at 55F or so for 4-5 days and its ready to go.
Spile/vent. Tap. Settle. Serve at 55F.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Victory Project

I'm looking for brewers to collaborate in my Victory Project.

The idea is to release a series of beers, brewed in different breweries, in 2016. I'll be pitting together a series of historic recipes with a common theme and distributing them around participating breweries.

Get in touch if you'd like to take part. It's open to brewers anywhere in the world.

Draught Mild Ale in 1960

I’m fair rattling through these things. I might even complete this series before I forget about it.

One thing this last set has taught me. That Whitbread were losing interest in Mild. That’s why I’ve included beers from both 1959 and 1960 in the Gravity Book table. I had too few from 1960 to form much of a set.

One point the numbers do prove is that Mild was good value for money. Obviously, it was way better than bottled beer – they cost more than 6d for 1% ABV. But also better than draught Bitter which averaged 4.2d. Why was that? Customer expectation. And historic – Pale Ales had always sold at a premium, right since they first became widespread in the 19th century.

While I’m making comparisons with Bitter, I may as well look at bitterness levels, too. The average for Bitter was significantly higher: 32.1. But looking at individual beers, the situation is more complex. The Bitters have values ranging from 20 to 40. The Milds 15 to 37. Only four of the 25 Bitters had a higher value. Bizarrely, their Bitter had a much lower value, just 20. Meaning their Mild was almost twice as bitter as their Bitter.

There’s one thing that is particularly pleasing. As I have brewing records for Whitbread for 1960, I can see what that 26 units relates to in terms of hopping rate. It’s the equivalent of 0.7 lbs hops per barrel. Using the figures for Whitbread Bitter and Truman Bitter, I come up with pretty consistent results. 1lb of hops per barrel equates to around 37 or 38 hop bitter index units. Now if I run the hopping through Beersmith, I should be able to equate those units with IBUs.

Note that the Carlisle State Management Mild is 1d cheaper than any of the others. The only one under a shilling a pint. Otherwise, 12d seems the standard price for Ordinary Mild, a penny more for Best Mild.

Speaking of which, it’s nice to have three sets of Mild and Best Mild. Not that in the two pairs where the colour is specified, the Best Mild is paler. This seems to have been the general rule both sides of the Pennines. Though in both cases the Ordinary Milds aren’t that dark.

Talking of colour, only three Milds are what I would call properly dark (i.e. colour of 80 or over):  Chester Northgate Brewery, Fullers and Greenall Whitley. This is making the difference between Bitter and Mild look pretty arbitrary. Many of the Milds are no darker than Bitter and some are more bitter.

Not sure why the Gravity Book examples have so much greater degree of attenuation. The average of the Which? set is brought down by four London Milds: Charrington, Watney, Whitbread and Courage & Barclay. Were London Milds sweeter? Unfortunately my second table only has two London beers. Though they are two of the least well-attenuated. All the others, save Ansells, are northern beers.

The strongest in both tables is Ansells. That doesn’t surprise me. In the West Midland, where Ansells was from, Mild was incredibly popular and tended to be stronger than elsewhere.

Draught Mild Ale in 1960
Brewer Beer Price per pint d OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation Index of Hop Bitter price per % ABV
Carlisle State Management Mild 11 1031.2 1008.8 2.90 71.79% 16 3.79
Greene King Mild 12 1030.7 1006.1 3.20 80.29% 18 3.75
Greenall Whitley Mild 12 1030.8 1004.7 3.40 84.90% 32 3.53
Friary Meux Mild 12 1031.1 1006.5 3.20 79.26% 21 3.75
Thwaites Mild 12 1031.1 1005 3.40 84.08% 23 3.53
Wilson Mild 12 1031.2 1005.8 3.30 81.41% 24 3.64
Fremlins Mild 12 1033.3 1005.6 3.60 83.18% 17 3.33
Charrington Mild 12 1033.5 1012.6 2.70 62.39% 15 4.45
Watney Mild 12 1031.1 1011.7 2.50 62.38% 21 4.79
Whitbread Mild 12 1031.4 1011.3 2.60 64.01% 26 4.62
Courage & Barclay Mild 12 1031.7 1010.8 2.70 65.93% 26 4.44
Hammond United Best Mild KB 12 1032.7 1005 3.60 84.71% 37 3.33
Truman Mild 12 1033.2 1009.3 3.10 72.14% 28 3.87
John Smiths Mild 12 1033.6 1009.7 3.10 71.28% 32 3.87
Ind Coope XXX 12 1034.3 1009.6 3.20 72.01% 14 3.75
Ansells Mild 12 1036.5 1009.5 3.50 73.97% 24 3.43
11.9 1032.3 1008.2 3.13 74.61% 23.4 3.87
Which Beer Report, 1960, pages 171 - 173.

Draught Mild Ale in 1959 / 1960
Brewer Beer Price per pint d OG FG ABV App. Atten-uation colour price per % ABV
Bentleys Mild 13 1032.9 1005.4 3.44 83.59% 30 3.78
Bents Mild Ale 12 1033.2 1003.6 3.86 89.16% 55 3.11
Chester Northgate Brewery Mild Ale 14 1030.6 1005.6 3.25 81.70% 95 4.31
Fullers Mild Ale 12 1032.2 1006.6 3.32 79.50% 90 3.61
Greenall Whitley Mild Ale 12 1030.4 1005.5 3.23 81.91% 80 3.71
Greenall Whitley Mild Ale 13 1029.3 1005.3 3.12 81.91% 65 4.17
Ramsdens Best Mild 13 1035.5 1006.5 3.63 81.69% 35 3.59
Ramsdens Mild 12 1029.2 1004.7 3.06 83.90% 45 3.92
Threlfalls Mild Ale 12 1032.8 1004.3 3.71 86.89% 50 3.23
Websters Best Mild 13 1035 1005.9 3.64 83.14% 20 3.57
Websters Mild 12 1031.6 1004.8 3.35 84.81% 55 3.58
Whitaker Best Mild 13 1033.1 1010.2 2.86 69.18% 45 4.54
Whitbread Best Ale 1030.3 1008.5 2.88 71.95%
Ansell Mild Ale 13 1038
Lees Mild 1032.0
Lees Best Mild 1035.0
Tetley Mild Ale 12 1031.9 1003.6 3.54 88.71% 60 3.39
Average 12.6 1032.5 1005.8 3.35 82.00% 55.8 3.73
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.
Whitbread brewing record held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/01/127.
Lees brewing records

Brown Ale next.

Monday, 5 October 2015

John Smith acquisitions (part two)

The map of Simonds brewery purchases was so revealing, I’ve decided to do the same for John Smith.

And blow me, as soon as I looked at it, I noticed something. Again, it’s to do with major transport routes. While Simonds takeovers followed the Great Western Railway east to west, John Smiths mostly went north and south. Approximately following the A1 and East Coast mainline. Take a look:

Black: original brewery
Green: <= 1920
Red: 1930 – 1945
Orange:  > 1950

Though in addition there’s a little leakage over the Pennines to Lancashire.

I’m definitely going to continue with this. It’s so revealing.